Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 21–36 | Cite as

Nesting on high: reproductive and physiological consequences of breeding across an intertidal gradient

  • Aneesh P. H. BoseEmail author
  • Brittney G. Borowiec
  • Graham R. Scott
  • Sigal Balshine
Original Paper


Nest site selection is a critical parental decision with profound fitness consequences, yet the physiological consequences of these decisions are rarely examined. Certain fishes and other aquatic organisms construct nests and provide parental care in the intertidal zone—an environment characterized by fluctuating water levels, which can exert intermittent and sometimes extreme abiotic stress on the animals that live there including dramatic changes in temperature and dissolved oxygen level. In this study, we used the plainfin midshipman fish, Porichthys notatus, to test whether (1) nest site preferences and reproductive success vary across an intertidal elevation gradient, and (2) fish that nest at higher elevations pay greater physiological costs due to prolonged exposure to more extreme abiotic conditions. We found that fish preferred nests lower in the intertidal zone, with larger males outcompeting smaller males for these sites. Broods at high elevations suffered greater offspring mortality than broods at lower elevations. The average microhabitat temperature of nests was also warmer and more variable at higher elevations compared to lower elevations. While isolated from the ocean during low tides, care-giving parents increased their use of anaerobic metabolism, and potentially draw upon oxygen reserves in the swim bladder. Our results suggest that the choice of nesting location can have profound effects on a parent’s physiology and may generate significant variation in reproductive success among individuals.


Abiotic stress Parental care Beach spawning Nest site selection Male competition Toadfish 



We are indebted to Chuck and Sally Flader as well as Eileen Carr and family for providing lodging and access to the field sites. We also thank J. Miller, N. Houpt, E. Sadler, N. Brown, M. Lapstra, K. Cogliati, and C. Hiltz for assistance with field work. This work was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grants to SB and GRS (Grant Nos. 222854-2011 and 418202-2012). Additional funding was provided to AB by the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University. Analyses reported in this article can be reproduced using the data provided in the Supplementary Materials.

Author contributions

AB, SB, BB, and GRS conceived and designed the study. AB and SB conducted the field work. BB conducted the laboratory assays. AB analyzed the data. AB and BB wrote the paper with input from all co-authors.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No competing interests declared.

Supplementary material

10682_2019_9970_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 kb)
10682_2019_9970_MOESM2_ESM.csv (3 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (CSV 4 kb)
10682_2019_9970_MOESM3_ESM.csv (535 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (CSV 535 kb)
10682_2019_9970_MOESM4_ESM.csv (9 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (CSV 10 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aquatic Behavioural Ecology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience, and BehaviourMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Collective BehaviourMax Planck Institute for OrnithologyConstanceGermany
  3. 3.Department of BiologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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